Wednesday After Epiphany
The Christian life is not supposed to be one epiphany after another. Most of it is lived in between epiphanies, when it is by no means clear that Christ is present. Today’s Gospel shows us both of these sides of the Christian life.
Mark tells us that “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him”, while he “went off to the mountain to pray”. It was dark, and the disciples could look back at the dim outline of the mountain, where they knew he was, and they must have wondered why he had sent them out on the sea with the wind against them, without going with them. Jesus “saw that they were tossed about while rowing”, hours before he came to them, and that makes the separation harder to understand.
It seems to be his way of training the disciples to do without his personal presence, to see if we really “have come to know and believe in the love God has for us”. He may be off in the mountain, and can see that we are being tossed about every which way, but he does not cease to love us, because he is love, and it is out of love that he calls us to effort and to constant struggle as the law of our lives.
Not until the fourth watch of the night does he come, when the disciples have been struggling all night, the boat is far out on the sea, and the wind is against them. We can learn from this the delays of his love. “Whoever remains in love remains in God”, who comes in his own good time. If he seems to us to delay, then love has not yet come to perfection in us, because we are going by our own timetable.
But he does come toward us, walking on the sea. This is an epiphany, a manifestation of divine power. It is a sign that Christ can make use of our difficulties and trials as a means of his loving approach to us. He comes to us and gives us a deeper sensitivity to his presence in all our struggles than if we had nothing to contend with.
The disciples were not yet perfect in love. They had no expectation that Christ would come, and when they see this mysterious Thing stalking toward them across the waters from the unseen world, they were thoroughly terrified. We too often mistake Christ when he comes to us. We do not recognize his working in the storm, nor his presence in the middle of it. We get so absorbed in the circumstances that we fail to see him through them. The darkness obscures his face, and we see nothing but the threatening waves going high above our little boat. We mistake our best friend, and we are afraid of him as we dimly see him. We may even think that the signs of his presence are only our imagination.
But in love there can be no lasting fears, because fear is driven out by perfect love, who is Christ, and the awareness of his presence drives out all fear. “Do not be afraid” comes immediately after “Take courage, it is I”. The worst of our troubles are over when we know that he shares them, as he does at this Eucharist. Let us then, by a wondrous exchange, give him our troubles, and receive in return his body and blood, his soul and divinity, his courage and his love.